Tuesday, September 4, 2012

He's Better Than You, Just Ask Him

Okay, so maybe I'm a little overly critical of cele-brewers, but is it me, or does this article smack of pretension? At least, of back-handed complementariness.

Granted, I'm a little sick of hearing about the White House beer. The beer geeks and brew geeks* are foaming at the mouth and, yes I know, I contributed to the furor. In my defense, I just thought it was a cool beer story. I didn't expect a Freedom of Information Act request to be filed. Sometimes, as I've said before, the geek outweighs the beer. Yesterday's New York Times article, however oversteps passion and goes directly to douchebaggery.

I get that the Times might want to interview a professional brewer about the brewing process or what they think about the President's apparent love of beer. I also get that they want to talk to Garrett Oliver—he's polished and slick and likes to take pictures of himself with his goatee and his book—plus he's a cool guy. That's all cool. Except, there's a few little things that may have made Oliver come off a tad, um, pissy? He doesn't come out and say it, but the article makes it seem that Garrett's a little jealous that he didn't get a call from the red phone in the Oval Office. Take this statement about the White House's use of a min-mash process of malt extract and steeped grains:
“The version of brewing they’re doing at the White House might be called ‘second-level beginner.’"
Rigorous professionals, Mr. Oliver said, brew with malted barley, adding hops at appropriate times during the process for aromas, flavors and bitterness. An absolute beginner would use a liquid malt extract to which hops have already been added, like baking brownies from a mix — no muss, no fuss. The White House, Mr. Oliver said, has taken the next step, using a malt syrup but adding hop pellets, real hops that are ground up and pressed into pellets to preserve them. Most professional brewers, it should be noted, use hop pellets rather than actual hops.
Okay, that might be, but was that bit about being a "second-level beginner" even necessary to say? That's like saying someone who has driven for twenty-years—but never learned how to drive a manual shift—is a "second-level beginner". I've known people who have only-ever brewed with extract, and are far better brewers than I am. I can't however, vouch for their rigorousness. But, the next bit is the part that really gets me:
As a next step, Mr. Oliver suggested that rather than using the malt syrup, the White House produce its own mash of malted barley. “However, very few home brewers start by doing an actual mash — I certainly didn’t — so I’m happy to give the chefs a break here,’’ he said.
Oliver's ending to that paragraph, is the final nail in the coffin, for me. I hope he was joking when he said this, "...I’m happy to give the chefs a break here," and "these chefs", are the White House chefs, right? The same chefs who have prepared meals for Kings, Queens, Maharajahs, Premiers, Prime Ministers and Presidents from across the globe. Hell, Cristeta Comerford, the current White House executive chef, beat Emeril Lagasse and and Mario Batali on Iron Chef America. These people aren't a bunch of rubes making beer in their garage, this is the culinary staff of the goddamn White House. I bet  they can figure it out.

I'm sure that Oliver said a hundred things that never made the article, and I'm guessing his intention was not to look like the Grand-Poobah of the brew geeks. Again, maybe I've over critical, but when did beer-making become less important than the beer-maker?

* As a point of clarification—my definition of beer geek is one who loves him or her some good beer, while a brew geek is the IBU and gravity obsessed beer maker who loves to make themselves some good beer. It's a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless. 

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